Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Happy Thanksgiving – and the official start of Crunch-Time

In Tools, Uncategorized on November 26, 2009 at 9:00 am

Photo by Espen Klem

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you’re having a great time celebrating this most American of holidays — and taking an important respite from the busy pace of school. If you’ve studied in the states for a while, you know that Thanksgiving is all about eating a huge turkey dinner, hanging out with family, and being grateful for all the good things in life. The day after Thanksgiving is the official start of the December holiday season, including shopping, decorating, travel planning, and general hustling and bustling.

Many of my memories of Thanksgiving have to do with school, actually. When I was in high school, we had a week’s worth of Thanksgiving vacation each year, and usually, our teachers assigned a large research paper, due as soon as we returned the following Monday. I remember procrastinating over many of these Thanksgiving weeks, then rushing to have everything finished by the deadline.

Thanksgiving is still like that for many of us, since the start of the holiday season is often the start of end-of-semester crunch-time, as you realize that final exams are coming up and research papers are due in nearly every class you’re taking at the same time. This is when I see students stumbling around the halls, with red eyes and papers everywhere. It’s no wonder. There’s a  semester’s worth of knowledge for students to synthesize in a short amount of time. At the same time, you might be planning trips home to see your families, gathering gifts to give friends and family, and registering for your classes next semester. It’s a stressful time, and it’s easy to accidentally let something fall through the cracks.

I’m testing out a service that I’d like to offer to help you get through the next month. If it’s a hit, I’ll offer it again in January, to help you over the entire semester.

Custom Crunch-Time Helpfrom Thanksgiving through December 24th. With this service, you’ll get study tips, pep talks, and motivation strategically placed around deadlines for your classes — tailored to your class schedule and your study habits. An important note is that this is not tutoring or hands-on help (which I do plan to offer, actually, in the new year). Custom Crunch-Time Help is mainly for motivation, strategies for studying, and support. Here’s how it works:

1)      First, you’ll email me a copy of your syllabus for each of your classes (up to 5)

2)      Next, you’ll make sure that I have your email address and a phone number where I can leave voicemail messages for you. You’ll receive both voicemail messages and email reminders from me to help you plan that research paper, study for that test, and take a rest in the midst of it all.  A special note: I hate spammers, and I promise not to share your information with them (or anyone else, for that matter). In fact, you won’t even be added to the Student in the States mailing list, unless you make a separate request.

3)      Third, send me an email to let me know a little bit about how you study. Do you cram the night before a test? Do you study on the weekends, or every afternoon? I’ll ask you about your biggest challenges. Do you always procrastinate? Do you have test anxiety? Do you have trouble concentrating during class? I’ll time my messages to help you when you need it most – and to help you overcome your biggest challenges.

4)      I’ll use the deadlines,  the description of your study habits, and information on your syllabus to send you messages to help you get started on that paper or study for that test. I’ll send pep talks before test day and reminders to relax and get good rest, and I’ll send messages to give you tips on concentrating for an 8am class, staying calm during an essay exam, or conquering procrastination. Hopefully (if I do a good job!), you’ll feel supported, encouraged, motivated, and ready to get through crunch-time as easily as possible.

Cost: $40 (messages during crunch-time only)

If you’re interested in trying it out, visit the page here. I’ll be taking sign-ups until November 30th (midnight). After that, I’m not sure there would be enough crunch-time left for you to get your money’s worth of messages.


Monday Grammar & Teacher Journal

In Grammar, Uncategorized on November 24, 2009 at 3:48 am


Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be talking about some specific punctuation rules for research papers. Last week, we talked about how to use punctuation with quotation marks. This week, we’ll talk about how to use punctuation when citing sources within your paper.

In-text citations is the official name for what happens when you cite sources within your papers. In-text citations are the references you use after a quotation or paraphrase from your research. In MLA citations (for English and other humanities classes), you’ll include the author’s surname and the page number in parentheses, like this (Obama 46). Here’s what an in-text citation would look like after a direct quotation and after a paraphrase:

Direct Quote: “I don’t waste time thinking about things more than once” (Allen 22).

Paraphrase (when you put it in your own words): It’s not efficient to think about things repeatedly (Allen 22).

We’ll talk more about how to quote and paraphrase in future posts, but for now, I want you to look at the punctuation. Notice how, in both the quotation and the paraphrase, the period at the end of the sentence doesn’t come until after the citation is finished. The idea is that, when you cite a source, the citation is part of the sentence. Also, it looks neater, doesn’t it? Try it next time you’re citing sources for a paper.


I’m sorry I missed my post last Thursday! I owe you all an apology. The truth is that the end of the quarter is just as busy for teachers as it is for you. We’re grading papers, planning classes, getting all the assignments ready to explain to you. I’ve also been working on something for our website, though. I’d like to start offering more tools to help you as students, and I’ve been busy at work, preparing the details for you. I’ll unleash the full plan in my Thanksgiving post on Thursday. In the meantime, thank you for being so patient with me!

Perfect Writing

In Uncategorized, writing on November 5, 2009 at 10:05 am

Video 49 0 00 01-10

I hear the word “perfect” a lot in my line of work, and every time I hear it, a little rebellion happens inside me. Students want to learn perfect English and perfect grammar. Students want to get perfect grades, perfect scores on tests. Perfect, it seems, is where so many students set the bar for themselves. I think this is a dangerous practice.

A student once told me a story of taking her final secondary school test. She had perfect grades and was the most perfect student in her class. She was so frightened on test day, though, that she buckled, and she failed the test. Her life changed after that. Another student told me about her fear of tests, how students in her country who didn’t score well enough were not even allowed to attend university. She was terrified of not doing perfectly.

Stories like this are common — especially in countries with high stakes examinations before university. I know that, to some extent, this is the way the world works. We’re tested in school, and the goal is a perfect score. Still, the idea of perfect often paralyzes us. There’s no way to achieve perfection — especially when it comes to English and writing.

Striving for perfect writing assumes that there is one right way to write — and that all other ways of writing are somehow wrong. There are times in life when there is a definite right and wrong. There’s a right answer to that algebraic equation or the multiple choice question. Writing isn’t as clear-cut, though. Writing is basically putting our thoughts and ideas on the page — and there are many ways to do this. There are many ways to organize our thoughts, and there are many ways to write. Pretending that there is only one right way limits our choices, limits our critical thinking, and ultimately, limits our thinking.

Instead of thinking of writing a perfect paper, you might try to think about communicating your ideas clearly. Working to get your ideas across will help you avoid thoughts of perfection — and hopefully, make the writing at least a little less stressful.

What Makes Academic Writing Academic?

In Uncategorized, writing on September 17, 2009 at 7:08 pm


Often, students think that writing becomes academic when you use lots of big words, or when a paper is really long. While it’s true that a large vocabulary can be useful in academic writing — and that it’s good to meet your teacher’s minimum page requirement, a long paper with big words doesn’t necessarily become an academic paper.

Then what is an academic paper?

When you write a business letter, you’re writing to get something accomplished (to take action or build business relationships). When you write a poem or a short story, you’re writing to create an experience for the reader and evoke emotions. When you write an academic paper (including all those research papers you have to write), you’re writing to help your reader understand an issue from multiple perspectives — to think differently about your topic. As teachers say when we get together, academic writing is all about critical thinking.

Let’s say our paper topic is public transportation. If we were to write an academic paper, our goal would be to understand the issue of public transportation fully, looking at the topic from as many different angles as we can and evaluating each of the different ideas we find to see if we think it’s any good. What do experts on public transportation talk about, when they talk about it? What do they argue about? How does public transportation affect different groups of people, like bus riders, bus drivers, children, tax payers, or the people who manufacture benches for the bus stops? Researching the topic and writing an academic paper about it might explore each of these issues. Read the rest of this entry »

Summer Reading Part Two: What to Read?

In Uncategorized on June 25, 2009 at 10:00 am

Water for ElephantsEverymanSwann's Way: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseThe Gold Bug VariationsMaurice: A NovelOne Hundred Years of SolitudeThe Things They Carried

 my read shelf

If I’ve convinced you that summer reading is a good idea, you might now wonder what to read. To get the benefits of reading that we talked about last week, you don’t have to read famous literature like Shakespeare. In fact, unless you love Shakespeare and want to read it every day for fun, I wouldn’t recommend it. What’s more important is to find something to read that you enjoy. If you’re interested in the environment, read about the environment. If you really love cooking, read about food. If you are fascinated by history, read history.

One way to find new books that you might enjoy is to use websites like GoodReads to connect with other readers who are reading the same book and learn about their thoughts. GoodReads is a social networking site for readers to share discussions about books. You can get suggestions about what to read, talk with other readers, and write about the books you’ve read. If you’re curious, check out my books on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/profile/kapope

Here are five novels from my list that I think international students might enjoy. Over the summer months, I’ll share more of my favorite summer reads with you … Read the rest of this entry »

Are US grad schools making it even harder for international students?

In Uncategorized on September 17, 2008 at 2:56 am
Photo by hokkey (thank you!)

Photo by hokkey (thank you!)

Some graduate schools in the US may be making it even tougher for international students to be accepted into graduate programs. Take a look at an article with the details here:


Basically, at least one US graduate school says that, even when international students do well on the TOEFL and other English-speaking tests that focus on grammar and conversation, there’s no guarantee that international students are ready for graduate-level writing in English.

It’s cruel, isn’t it? As international students, you work so hard on grammar and conversation. You study long hours, and now you hear that it’s not enough? Please don’t let your blood pressure rise just yet! It’s not quite as bad as it sounds.

This Alabama school isn’t talking about making your grammar even more perfect–or studying an extra three years or getting perfect grades. They’re talking about critical thinking in writing — something I tend to go on and on about. Critical thinking isn’t about grammar or structure or five-paragraph essays, but about sharing fully developed, nuanced thoughts — something I find both exciting and fun.

There are steps you can take to add more critical thinking to your writing (if you’ve used some, add them in the comments). I promise to talk about it more in future posts.

Introduction: Students in the States

In Uncategorized on September 17, 2008 at 2:08 am

During my years as a teacher, I’ve worked with many international students, and I’ve learned that you have many challenges — and so much to bring to the classroom! I wanted to create a space for you — to practice English, learn more about American teaching styles, and help each other become more comfortable with life in the states. I’d like to use this blog to help share some tips (from a teacher’s perspective) about surviving as a student — and about becoming more comfortable when reading, listening, and speaking in English.